Buying the best TV for you...
Buying a new TV can be traumatic and baffling - unless you're armed with our guide to the countless pitfalls and confusions that await you...
Buying a flatscreen television is a major investment and one that you can't afford to take lightly. Just popping into the closest store and grabbing the first plasma or LCD you see won't get you the best deal, the screen that suits your needs, or the gear you require to make the most of your new purchase.
People tend to pick the size of their flat TV based on the amount of space they have for it, this isn't necessarily wise. Flat TVs take up much less space than CRTs, so your new TV may end up a foot or two further away from your viewing position, making the picture appear smaller.
It's also important to consider that large screens can reveal the weaknesses in standard-definition (SD) images, unless you sit a long way from them.
With hi-def, you can have a bigger screen and the same viewing distance without worrying about seeing blemishes inherent to the source. As a rule we've found that sitting at a distance of four to six times the height of the set works well for standard pictures.
Any closer and you'll see noise, further away and you won't enjoy their full potential. HDTV's lack of noise means that the ideal distance to sit from the screen is three to four times the height of the TV.
How to calculate the right size HDTV for you:
The trick here is to ensure that your TV is big enough to fill your line of vision, but small enough to be sharp and clear. Remember, if you intend to only watch standard-definition sources, the bigger the screen gets, the worse the image will look.
The ideal screen size can be calculated by multiplying the distance that you intend to sit away from it by 0.535 and then rounding this up to the nearest size.
So, if you sit 80in away from your TV, the ideal size is 42-inch (80 x 0.535= 42.8).
Features are too numerous to go into here, but here are some things you should consider.
HD ready: Sets with the HD ready badge meet the requirements set by the European Information and Communications Technology Industry Association (EICTA). These criteria include at least one HDMI port and component video inputs as well as a resolution of at least 1,024 x 768-pixels.
Freeview tuner: As analogue TV broadcasts will be phased out by 2012, make sure your new TV has a digital tuner. Many now come with a Freeview HD or Freesat HD one built-in.
Photo viewing: If you have a digital camera, a TV that has a slot for memory cards or a USB socket for a card reader will let you view your photos onscreen.
Here are some of the things we look for when we review a screen, so you should, too...
Contrast: Bright whites shouldn't have any signs of green, pink or blue in them, while blacks should look solid and not washed out, grey, green or blue.
Colours: Look at how bright and solid they are; how noiseless their edges are; how 'dotty' richly saturated areas are and how natural skin looks, especially in dim scenes.
Fine detail: How much texture does the screen give? Does a tree look like a green lump, or can you see the individual leaves
Edges: Check for ghosting, bright halos and jaggedness, especially around curves.
Motion: Check moving objects and quick camera pans for smearing or blurring, trailing, jerkiness and fizzing dotty noise.
Image artefacts: Look for blockiness, colour bands, grain, smearing, dot crawl: anything that looks like it's added by the TV picture processing or a weak TV tuner. Tinker with a TV's picture settings before making a final decision. Factory settings are rarely good for everyday viewing.
What about sound?
To provide the best audio to complement the pictures, your TV should be hooked up to a surround sound system, but this isn't always an option. So, here's what we listen for when testing a TV's speakers:
Bass: Deep, rounded rumbles that don't cause the set to rattle or speakers to distort, cramp or overwhelm the rest of the sound; but that expand when needed.
Vocals: Voices should sound open, rich and clear, not boxed in, nasal or thin.
Trebles: Treble effects should sound clean, rounded and smooth in loud scenes and shouldn't dominate the soundstage.
Soundstage width/depth: A good TV should throw the sound away from the TV, to the sides, forward and back, to give an extra dimension to what's on screen, without losing any coherence.
Lip sync: Check if actors' mouths move in time with the words they're saying. Some older flatscreens can take so long to process pictures, that images can lose synchronisation with the sound.
Buying your TV...
It's important to try to shop around as much as possible in order to find yourself the best price for your chosen TV.
Specialist dealers: These are usually the best place to go to get a decent explanation of how a product works alongside a proper hands-on demonstration.
End-of-line discounts: New TV lines are released a few times each year. This means stores have to get rid of older models to make room for the new gear. Buying end-of-line sets can get you a genuine bargain.
Price comparison websites: Enter the product you want into these sites' search engines, and you'll be given a list of internet retailers stocking it and how much they're charging. This is an extremely quick way of finding the best deals around. All of our reviews have a link to our website, where you can find excellent prices, but shop around.
Haggling: The number on a TV's price tag is an 'invitation to sale' – the store's saying 'Would you like to pay £1,500 for this TV?' By handing over your credit card, you say 'Yes. I'll pay that amount.' But you have the right to refuse to pay that and make a counter-offer.
To do this you need backup in the form of prices that rival stores are charging, some guts, and the willingness to walk away from the sale.
Remember, the store needs your money far more than you need to give it to them. They can, of course, refuse your offer.
Cash: Offering to pay in cash can encourage a salesperson (especially those in independent stores) to make a deal. Because they won't have to pay a bank or processing company to clear the payment, they can offer you a price cut, and still make more money than if you pay in plastic. If your salesperson won't make a deal, ask to speak with their manager.
Know your rights:
There are three main rights that protect you as a buyer: the item you're buying must be of satisfactory quality, fit for its purposes and as described. These rights always apply.
Of satisfactory quality: the item's condition must meet reasonable expectations given its price, age and what you're told about it. A new TV should be in perfect order. If you're told what the faults are and you buy it anyway, you've got no comeback.
Fit for its purposes: if you asked for a TV with a digital tuner, you can't be sold an analogue set.
ls as described: whether it's an in-store notice or the salesman's patter that tells you the TV has a 32-inch screen, digital audio output and three HDMIs, that's what it should have. This also means you must be told of any faults.
Sellers can offer credit notes, free repairs or exchanges, but they can't refuse to give your money back. But if you sign an agreement that says you aren't allowed a refund or if you accept a credit note, it'll be nearly impossible to recover your money should something go wrong.
Making a complaint
- Inform the seller of any fault, be sure to contact them within two days.
- If you phone the seller, make notes including the name of whoever you speak to, the time, date and what is said.
- Inform your contact what you bought, when and where the sale took place and how much you paid. Explain what's wrong, what action you've taken to correct it, and the names of whoever you've spoken to.
- Say what you'll accept as a remedy: refund, replacement or repair. Always send photocopies of documents – never originals – and copy any emails, faxes and letters. Use recorded or special delivery to check your letters arrive.
- Don't be fobbed off, don't listen to the 'It's the manufacturer's responsibility – speak to them' excuse. The seller must repair or replace a faulty TV. You should only contact the manufacturer if the fault hurts you or does more than £275 worth of damage to your property. If this happens you may be able to claim for compensation under product liability rules.
Where to get help
- The Citizens' Advice Bureau provides excellent advice on consumer law. (www.adviceguide.org.uk).
- Consumer Direct gives free advice by phone (08454 040506) and its website (www.consumerdirect.gov.uk).
- Local Trading Standards offices investigate breaches of consumer law. They'll also give advice to consumers.